The pessimists' view on Egypt

My academic friends Josh Stacher and Jason Brownlee, both noted students of contemporary Egypt and its authoritarianism, have a new piece in Comparative Democratization, a journal of the American Political Science Association. It's available as a PDF here. They set out the case that Egypt's prospects for a democratic transition are poor because there has not really been a split in the country's elite. (It's a lot more complicated than that, but it's difficult to pull out a representative passage as it's an academic piece — so best to read it all.)

I am much more optimistic than they are — and I suspect they might have been a bit more optimistic too had they had written their paper a month or so later (it looks like it was filed in April). They described the referendum as an endorsement of the SCAF but that narrative is now being reconsidered and debated, notably on the question of the SCAF's disingenuous use of the referendum as an endorsement of its transition plan (rather than, strictly speaking, nine amendments to the constitution). The fight regarding security officials and leading party members is also continuing, receiving an important boost as far as the NDP is concerned after April 8. Everything about the current moment is in flux, and while one should not have unrealistic expectations, there is a real desire for an improvement.

To say, as they do, that the current interim regime is just as authoritarian eludes the fact that this is a necessarily extraordinary transitional moment in Egyptian politics. I just don't see how it can be compared to the Mubarak era, even if it's still far from democratic. Still, it's a piece well worth reading.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.